Global warming is all about energy. The sun's energy illuminates the world, and the unique combination of gases in Earth's atmosphere holds in just the right amount of the sun's warmth to help life thrive.
But in the past 200 years or so, humans have changed the amount of certain gases in the air, such as carbon dioxide, or CO2. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas release CO2 when they're burned. And much of the world's energy needs are met by burning these fuels.
Carbon dioxide holds heat in the atmosphere. As humans have increased their use of fossil fuels, the levels of CO2 and other "greenhouse gases" in the air have risen, too. So the planet's climate is changing.
You probably know that when you turn on a light, you're using electrical energy. But have you ever thought about the energy it took to make the shirt you're wearing? How about your last meal? Or the shower you took this morning?
Clothing factories use electricity. It takes electrical power to process food that you see on supermarket shelves. Also, the vehicles that brought these goods to the store probably burned fuel to get there.
And your shower? Well, it takes energy to heat the water you used, and it requires even more power to clean and treat all the water that went down the drain.
All this energy use accounts for a good deal of the rise in global CO2 emissions. You might wonder, "How could I possibly help?" After all, we each have to wear clothes, eat, and bathe. But we can get dressed, dine, keep clean, and work and play in ways that use less energy.
Check out the tips on this page for a few ideas. And be creative! There are tons of ways to help the earth. See how many you can think of – and tell your friends.
Also, remember to educate yourself about climate change. See the Monitor's Oct. 9 Kidspace article for websites where you can play games and learn about global warming at the same time.
• Turn off and unplug your video-game system when you're finished playing. Or better yet, skip the digital basketball game and go outside to shoot a few real hoops with your friends.
• Ask a grown-up if there are farmers' markets in your area. The fruits and veggies at these places are often grown locally, which means they haven't traveled long distances in fossil-fueled vehicles.
• If you have a yard, you might ask your family what they think about having a vegetable garden. It doesn't take any fuel to transport a ripe tomato from your yard to your kitchen.
• Don't stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open. Try to decide what you want before you open the fridge.
• If it's not too cold outside and you don't have a fancy event to attend, consider letting your hair air-dry instead of using a hair dryer.
• If you live close to your school and it's OK with your parents, you might try walking there, rather than hitching a ride with Mom or Dad.
• When it's sunny outside, turn off that lamp, roll up those shades, and use natural light.
• Don't throw away your old or outgrown clothes. Ask Dad or Mom to donate nice items to charity. Use the scraps of well-worn ones for craft projects or as rags for household cleaning.
• Wear secondhand clothes with pride. Ever heard of "vintage" fashion? Those must-have styles were once worn by cool cats of a bygone era – maybe even your mom! Ask to visit thrift stores. And appreciate those hand-me-downs from your big brother or sister.
• With a parent's help, compost vegetable peelings. You can do this even if you don't have a yard. Learn more at: www.epa.gov/compost.•
• Recycle paper, glass, plastic, and aluminum and tin cans. It often takes less energy to produce recycled goods than to make products from all new materials.
• If your school doesn't already recycle, ask your teacher or principal what it would take to start a recycling program.
• Shower in five minutes or less. Make a game of it: Time yourself and compete with family members to see who can spend the least time in the shower and still come out squeaky clean.
• If Mom asks you to wash the pots and pans, fill the sink with an inch or two of soapy water, instead of letting the water run as you wash and rinse each dish. Rinse clean dishes with cold water to save energy.
• If you're waiting for the tap to run hot, collect the cold water in a cup to drink or to water houseplants.
• Tell your parents about any leaky faucets right away so the dripping can be fixed.
• Offer to wash the family car with a bucket of soapy water and a soft sponge. Turn on the hose only when you're ready to rinse. Commercial car washes use more water than you will.